Mitt Romney told Fox News after Rick Santorum’s victories in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, “We’re not going to go to a brokered convention.”
But those who put their money where their mouth is, buying contracts on the Intrade.com online prediction market, assess the picture much differently from Romney. The latest Intrade.com probability that the Republican nominee will be selected in a brokered convention is 21.5 percent. This same probability stood at 5 percent a month and a half ago.
Ed Rollins, veteran presidential campaign manager and consultant, who ran President Reagan’s landslide 1984 victory, wrote after Alabama and Mississippi, “It’s now clear, it’s a fight all the way. …We haven’t picked half the delegates yet, and there is no inevitable winner.”
It’s significant that there is so much talk about a brokered convention when the current primary system is designed to avoid exactly that and when it hasn’t occurred in years.
Perhaps the question worth re-asking is why Romney, well into his second presidential campaign, with financial resources many orders of magnitude greater than either of his opponents, remains so weak.
Three major trends are worth noting, all of which are unflattering to the Romney candidacy.
One, within the GOP itself, the party has become more conservative over the last decade.
In a Gallup poll in 2000, 62 percent of Republicans self identified as conservative. By 2011, this was up to 71 percent.
So, in his own party, Romney’s tepid conservative credentials hurt him.
Despite this, what seems to be sustaining his candidacy, beyond his prodigious financial resources, is a notion that a more moderate Republican candidate will do better in the general election against Barack Obama.
But this is also a dubious assumption considering two other trends.
First, independent voters have also become more conservative over the last decade. In 2000, 29 percent of independents self identified as conservative. By 2011, this was up to 35 percent.
Second, the number of voters identifying as independent is now at an all time high of 40 percent.
Gallup explains this surge in growth in independents as “record levels of distrust in government” and “unfavorable views of both parties.”
So over the last decade, voters overall have become more conservative and more sensitized to looking for authenticity in a candidate.
Romney comes up short on both counts. His conservative credentials are easily questioned.
And at a time when voters put a premium on authenticity, a candidate like Romney, who comes off as the political equivalent to the 1997 Aqua song “I’m a Barbie Girl, in the Barbie World, Life in Plastic, It’s Fantastic,” doesn’t sell well.
The attempt to offset all this with the claim that, as a successful businessman he knows how to fix the economy and restore prosperity, also stands on feet of clay.
President Reagan stands as the icon for leadership for turning the nation around from recession and inflation to prosperity. He had no background as a businessman. His strong suit was his understanding of, and absolute commitment to, conservative principles.
President Carter, whom Reagan defeated in 1980, who led the nation to the brink, had a background as a successful businessman prior to being governor of Georgia.
As Karl Rove convincingly argues in the Wall Street Journal this week, Barack Obama is a weakened candidate.
Voters disillusioned with the Republican Party, and looking for the kind of authenticity I’ve mentioned here, voted for Obama in 2008. Now it’s clear they got a boilerplate liberal who, like Carter, has also brought our nation to the brink.
Republicans have a real opportunity to restore credibility as a party and deliver the kind of candidate the nation needs.
It’s why the conservative opposition to Mitt Romney, despite being massively outspent, remains strong and credible.
Far from being over, this Republican race is just getting started.